Anderson, Wy.—The controversy about high school mascots has arrived in this rural Wyoming hamlet. While the rest of nation wrestles with Native American mascots many find offensive, Anderson High School – located about two hours north of Casper – has a different debate on its hands.
This Friday nearby Arvada High’s football team will come to Anderson to play the Ass Wranglers.
“Yes, we get asked about it,” school principal Abbie Solomon said after a prolonged sigh. “It’s…unique, but on the bright side, since this controversy started, our t-shirt sales are through the roof; paid for a new floor waxer.”
The Anderson School Board will meet next Tuesday to debate whether to change the name at the urging of a student group. At a listening session last month, junior Lindsey Cole made her case for change.
“I got banned from Facebook for a week because they thought I was using a gay slur. I had to email them our dumb logo to prove I wasn’t saying anything rude,” Cole said.
“Now I get all kinds of friend requests from older gay men. A lot of them are really cool, and honestly, I spend more time chatting with them than I do most of my classmates.”
Cole and senior James Henson formed a group – Anything Else, Please – to lobby students and faculty to reject the eyebrow-raising moniker.
“We formed AEP because that’s literally what we’ve said our whole lives: anything else, please!” said Henson, a starting linebacker on the football team. “I love my teammates and I love my school, but come on, how are we supposed to play a road game and not get laughed at? The guys at (rival school) Sheridan held up a huge paper mâché anus during the game last year. It had a big dingleberry on it that said ‘Anderson’.”
The name, however, has its staunch supporters. Ken Langsworth, 57, is a local banker and member of the town council. As a point guard, he led Anderson to the school’s only state championship in any sport when the boys’ basketball team won the 1983 crown. A framed, aging copy of the Cody Gazette proclaiming “[Posterior] Wranglers lasso trophy” still hangs in the school gym.
“This name is who we are. It is our blood, our soul. We are not ‘lions’ or ‘wildcats’. We’re the only school in the whole world with this name, and I want all the boys and girls at my school to put on that uniform with pride, puff out their chests, and say ‘Damn right I’m an Ass Wrangler,’” he said.
The origins of the mascot owe to the region’s ranching heritage, according to David Shapiro, a high school mascot researcher. Much of his work involves reckoning with Native American names and imagery that is hurtful to tribe members.
“You know, your run-of-the-mill Indians, Braves, Fighting Sioux, and worse. But I also look into some oddballs, like the Watersmeet (Mich.) Nimrods, the Estherville-Lincoln Central (Ia.) Midgets, and the one nobody believes in Pekin, Illinois. They used to be the, uh…well, just Google it,” Shaprio said. “But I’d never heard of this one until Lindsey (Cole) reached out to me. I was pretty sure it was a joke but then she showed me a t-shirt with a guy herding donkeys.”
In the early half of the 20th Century, donkeys, or asses, were used in farming operations around Anderson. The ass’ agility and stamina made it a valuable worker in Wyoming’s rocky and rolling terrain. Wrangling asses was considered a noble profession akin to a doctor.
After Shaprio did some digging, he found an account of the Ass Wranglers origin story in the October 23, 1917, edition of the (now defunct) Anderson Intelligencer. It read:
On this day, the distinguished men of the Anderson School Board assumed the great task of bestowing upon its charges a name befitting the unassailable pride all Andersonians feel. With great solemnity and purpose, board president E. L. Swanson announced to a hushed gathering that henceforth Anderson High School athletics will be named for the stoutest of yeomen – the Ass Wrangler. Names considered, though deemed insufficient for such a grand purpose, were the Mustangs, the Plainsmen, and the Cross-Eyed Drunken Irish.
“Mustangs! We could have been the Mustangs! Mother [expletive deleted],” Henson, the senior football player, said.
The school has resisted changing the name in the past, save for in 1987 when the girls’ teams were changed from the Ass Wranglerettes to match their male counterparts, Shaprio said.
“In the 70s, they thought about changing to just ‘Wranglers’ but then the jeans company threatened to sue. One superintendent in 1995 proposed ‘Ass Handlers’ which seemed to miss the point, and student group in the 60s proposed ‘Butt Wranglers’ which somehow made it worse,” he said.
The outcome of Tuesday’s vote is anyone’s guess. Four of the board’s seven members have stated a position – two for change, two for keep – with three still undecided. Brian Bronson will be voting to retain the mascot. He gave a stirring address at last month’s listening session.
“I’m so sick and tired of all these namby-pamby types telling us how to live our lives. Here’s the deal. My granddad was an Ass Wrangler. My dad was an Ass Wrangler. I was an Ass Wrangler, and God willing my 10-year-old boy, Brock, will be an Ass Wrangler,” Bronson said to cheers while Cole rolled her eyes and chatted with her new acquaintances on the social media site Friends of Dorothy.